Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
AFTER having explained prophecy in accordance with reason and Scripture, I must now describe the different degrees of prophecy from these two points of view. Not all the degrees of prophecy which I will enumerate qualify a person for the office of a prophet. The first and the second degrees are only steps leading to prophecy, and a person possessing either of these two degrees does not belong to the class of prophets whose merits we have been discussing. When such a person is occasionally called prophet, the term is used in a wider sense, and is applied to him because he is almost a prophet. You must not be misled by the fact that according to the books of the Prophets, a certain prophet, after having been inspired with one kind of prophecy, is reported to have received prophecy in another form. For it is possible for a prophet to prophesy at one time in the form of one of the degrees which I am about to enumerate, and at another time in another form. In the same manner, as the prophet does not prophesy continuously, but is inspired at one time and not at another, so he may at one time prophesy in the form of a higher degree, and at another time in that of a lower degree; it may happen that the highest degree is reached by a prophet only once in his lifetime, and afterwards remains inaccessible to him, or that a prophet remains below the highest degree until he entirely loses the faculty: for ordinary prophets must cease to prophesy a shorter or longer period before their death. Comp. "And the word of the Lord ceased from Jeremiah" (Ezra i. 1); "And these are the last words of David" (2 Sam. xxiii. 1). From these instances it can be inferred that the same is the case with all prophets. After this introduction and explanation, I will begin to enumerate the degrees of prophecy to which I have referred above.
(1) The first degree of prophecy consists in the divine assistance which is given to a person, and induces and encourages him to do something good and grand, e.g., to deliver a congregation of good men from the hands of evildoers; to save one noble person, or to bring happiness to a large number of people; he finds in himself the cause that moves and urges him to this deed. This degree of divine influence is called "the spirit of the Lord"; and of the person who is under that influence we say that the spirit of the Lord came upon him, clothed him, or rested upon him, or the Lord was with him, and the like. All the judges of Israel possessed this degree, for the following general statement is made concerning them:--"The Lord raised up judges for them; and the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them" (Judges ii. 18). Also all the noble chiefs of Israel belonged to this class. The same is distinctly stated concerning some of the judges and the kings:--"The spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah" (ibid. xi. 29); of Samson it is said, "The spirit of the Lord came upon him" (ibid. xiv. 19); "And the spirit of the Lord came upon Saul when he heard those words" (1 Sam. xi. 6). When Amasa was moved by the holy spirit to assist David, "A spirit clothed Amasa, who was chief of the captains, and he said, Thine are we, David," etc.(1 Chron. xii. 18). This faculty was always possessed by Moses from the time he had attained the age of manhood: it moved him to slay the Egyptian, and to prevent evil from the two men that quarrelled; it was so strong that, after he had fled from Egypt out of fear, and arrived in Midian, a trembling
stranger, he could not restrain himself from interfering when he saw wrong being done; he could not bear it. Comp. "And Moses rose and saved them" (Exod. ii. 17). David likewise was filled with this spirit, when he was anointed with the oil of anointing. Comp. "And the spirit of God came upon David from that day and upward" (1 Sam. xvi. 13). He thus conquered the lion and the bear and the Philistine, and accomplished similar tasks, by this very spirit. This faculty did not cause any of the above-named persons to speak on a certain subject, for it only aims at encouraging the person who possesses it to action; it does not encourage him to do everything, but only to help either a distinguished man or a whole congregation when oppressed, or to do something that leads to that end. just as not an who have a true dream are prophets, so it cannot be said of every one who is assisted in a certain undertaking, as in the acquisition of property, or of some other personal advantage, that the spirit of the Lord came upon him, or that the Lord was with him, or that he performed his actions by the holy spirit. We only apply such phrases to those who have accomplished something very good and grand, or something that leads to that end; e.g., the success of Joseph in the house of the Egyptian, which was the first cause leading evidently to great events that occurred subsequently.
(2) The second degree is this: A person feels as if something came upon him, and as if he had received a new power that encourages him to speak. He treats of science, or composes hymns, exhorts his fellow-men, discusses political and theological problems; all this he does while awake, and in the full possession of his senses. Such a person is said to speak by the holy spirit. David composed the Psalms, and Solomon the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon by this spirit; also Daniel, Job, Chronicles, and the rest of the Hagiographa were written in this holy spirit; therefore they are called ketubim (Writings, or Written), i.e., written by men inspired by the holy spirit. Our Sages mention this expressly concerning the Book of Esther. In reference to such holy spirit, David says: "The spirit of the Lord spoke in me, and his word is on my tongue" (2 Sam. xxiii. 2); i.e., the spirit of the Lord caused him to utter these words. This class includes the seventy elders of whom it is said, "And it came to pass when the spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, and did not cease" (Num. xi. 25); also Eldad and Medad (ibid. ver. 26); furthermore, every high priest that inquired [of God] by the Urim and Tummim; on whom, as our Sages say, the divine glory rested, and who spoke by the holy spirit; Yahaziel, son of Zechariah, belongs likewise to this class. Comp. "The spirit of the Lord came upon him in the midst of the assembly, and he said, Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, thus saith the Lord unto you," etc. (2 Chron. xx. 14, 15); also Zechariah, son of Jehoiada the priest. Comp. "And he stood above the people and said unto them, Thus saith God" (ibid. xxiv. 20); furthermore, Azariah, son of Oded; comp. "And Azariah, son of Oded, when the spirit of the Lord came upon him, went forth before Asa," etc. (ibid. xv. 1, 2); and all who acted under similar circumstances. You must know that Balaam likewise belonged to this class, when he was good; this is indicated by the words, "And God put a word in the mouth of Balaam" (Num. xxiii. 5), i.e., Balaam spoke by divine inspiration; he therefore says of himself, "Who heareth the words of God," etc. (ibid. xxiv. 4)
[paragraph continues] We must especially point out that David, Solomon, and Daniel belonged to this class, and not to the class of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nathan the prophet, Elijah the Shilonite, and those like them. For David, Solomon, and Daniel spoke and wrote inspired by the holy spirit, and when David says, "The God of Israel spoke and said unto me, the rock of Israel" (2 Sam. xxiii. 3), he meant to say that God promised him happiness through a prophet, through Nathan or another prophet. The phrase must here be interpreted in the same manner as in the following passages, "And God said to her" (Gen. xxv. 26); "And God said unto Solomon, Because this hath been in thy heart, and thou hast not kept my covenant," etc. (1 Kings xi. 11). The latter passage undoubtedly contains a prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, or another prophet, who foretold Solomon that evil would befall him. The passage, "God appeared to Solomon at Gibeon in a dream by night, and God said" (ibid. iii. 5), does not contain a real prophecy, such as is introduced by the words "The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying" (Gen. xv. 1) or, "And God said to Israel in the visions of the night" (ibid. xlvi. 2), or such as the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah contain: in all these cases the prophets, though receiving the prophecy in a prophetic dream, are told that it is a prophecy, and that they have received prophetic inspiration. But in the case of Solomon, the account concludes, "And Solomon awoke, and behold it was a dream" (1 Kings iii. 15); and in the account of the second divine appearance, it is said, "And God appeared to Solomon a second time, as he appeared to him at Gibeon" (ibid. ix. 2); it was evidently a dream. This kind of prophecy is a degree below that of which Scripture says, "In a dream I will speak to him" (Num. xii. 6). When prophets are inspired in a dream, they by no means call this a dream, although the prophecy reached them in a dream, but declare it decidedly to be a prophecy. Thus Jacob, our father, when awaking from a prophetic dream, did not say it was a dream, but declared, "Surely there is the Lord in this place," etc. (Gen. xxviii. 16); "God the Almighty appeared to me in Luz, in the land of Canaan" (ibid. xlviii. 3), expressing thereby that it was a prophecy. But in reference to Solomon we read And Solomon awoke, and behold it was a dream" (1 Kings iii. 15). Similarly Daniel declares that he had a dream; although he sees an angel and hears his word, he speaks of the event as of a dream: even when he had received the information [concerning the dreams of Nebukadnezzar], he speaks of it in the following manner--"Then was the secret revealed to Daniel in a night vision (Dan. ii. 19). On other occasions it is said, "He wrote down the dream" "I saw in the visions by night," etc.; "And the visions of my head confused me" (Dan. vii. 1, 2, 15); "I was surprised at the vision, and none noticed it" (ibid. viii. 27). There is no doubt that this is one degree below that form of prophecy to which the words, "In a dream I will speak to him," are applied. For this reason the nation desired to place the book of Daniel among the Hagiographa, and not among the Prophets. I have, therefore, pointed out to you, that the prophecy revealed to Daniel and Solomon, although they saw an angel in the dream, was not considered by them as a perfect prophecy, but as a dream containing correct information. They belonged to the class of men that spoke, inspired by the ruaḥ ha-kodesh, "the holy spirit." Also in the order of the holy writings, no distinction is made between the books of Proverbs,
[paragraph continues] Ecclesiastes, Daniel, Psalms, Ruth, and Esther; they are all written by divine inspiration. The authors of all these books are called prophets in the more general sense of the term.
(3) The third class is the lowest [class of actual prophets, i.e.] of those who introduce their speech by the phrase, "And the word of the Lord came unto me," or a similar phrase. The prophet sees an allegory in a dream--under those conditions which we have mentioned when speaking of real prophecy--and in the prophetic dream itself the allegory is interpreted. Such are most of the allegories of Zechariah.
(4) The prophet hears in a prophetic dream something clearly and distinctly, but does not see the speaker. This was the case with Samuel in the beginning of his prophetic mission, as has been explained (chap. xliv.).
(5) A person addresses the prophet in a dream, as was the case in some of the prophecies of Ezekiel. Comp. "And the man spake unto me, Son of man," etc. (Ezek. xl. 4).
(6) An angel speaks to him in a dream; this applies to most of the prophets: e.g., "And an angel of God said to me in a dream of night" (Gen. xxxi. 11).
(7) In a prophetic dream it appears to the prophet as if God spoke to him. Thus Isaiah says, "And I saw the Lord, and I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" (Isa. vi. 1, 8). Micaiah, son of Imla, said likewise, "I saw the Lord" (1 Kings xxii. 19).
(8) Something presents itself to the prophet in a prophetic vision; he sees allegorical figures, such as were seen by Abraham in the vision "between the pieces" (Gen. xv. 9, 10); for it was in a vision by daytime, as is distinctly stated.
(9) The prophet hears words in a prophetic vision; as, e.g., is said in reference to Abraham, "And behold, the word came to him, saying, This shall not be thine heir" (ibid. xv. 4).
(10) The prophet sees a man that speaks to him in a prophetic vision: e.g., Abraham in the plain of Mamre (ibid. xviii. 1), and Joshua in Jericho (Josh. v. 13)
(11) He sees an angel that speaks to him in the vision, as was the case when Abraham was addressed by an angel at the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. xxii. 15). This I hold to be--if we except Moses--the highest degree a prophet can attain according to Scripture, provided he has, as reason demands, his rational faculties fully developed. But it appears to me improbable that a prophet should be able to perceive in a prophetic vision God speaking to him; the action of the imaginative faculty does not go so far, and therefore we do not notice this in the case of the ordinary prophets; Scripture says expressly, "In a vision I will make myself known, in a dream I will speak to him"; the speaking is here connected with dream, the influence and the action of the intellect is connected with vision; comp. In a vision I will make myself known to him" (etvadda‘, hitpael of yada‘, "to know" but it is not said here that in a vision anything is heard from God. When 1, therefore, met with statements in Scripture that a prophet heard words spoken to him, and that this took place in a vision, it occurred to me that the case in which God appears to address the prophet seems to be the only difference between a vision and a dream, according to the literal sense of the Scriptural
text. But it is possible to explain the passages in which a prophet is reported to have heard in the course of a vision words spoken to him, in the following manner: at first he has had a vision, but subsequently he fell into a deep sleep, and the vision was changed into a dream. Thus we explained the words, "And a deep sleep fell upon Abram" (Gen. xv. 12); and our Sages remark thereon, "This was a deep sleep of prophecy." According to this explanation. it is only in a dream that the prophet can hear words addressed to him; it makes no difference in what manner words are spoken. Scripture supports this theory, "In a dream I will speak to him." But in a prophetic vision only allegories are perceived, or rational truths are obtained, that lead to some knowledge in science, such as can be arrived at by reasoning. This is the meaning of the words, "In a vision I will make myself known unto him." According to this second explanation, the degrees of prophecy are reduced to eight, the highest of them being the prophetic vision, including all kinds of vision, even the case in which a man appears to address the prophet, as has been mentioned. You will perhaps ask this question: among the different degrees of prophecy there is one in which prophets, e.g., Isaiah, Micaiah, appear to hear God addressing them; how can this be reconciled with the principle that all prophets are prophetically addressed through an angel, except Moses our Teacher, in reference to whom Scripture says, "Mouth to mouth I speak to him" (Num. xii. 8)? I answer, this is really the case, the medium here being the imaginative faculty that hears in a prophetic dream God speaking; but Moses heard the voice addressing him "from above the covering of the ark from between the two cherubim" (Exod. xxv. 22) without the medium of the imaginative faculty. In Mishne-torah we have given the characteristics of this kind of prophecy, and explained the meaning of the phrases, "Mouth to mouth I speak to him"; "As man speaketh to his neighbour" (Exod. xxxiii. 11), and the like. Study it there, and I need not repeat what has already been said.